Northern Iowa Upsets No. 1 Kansas
OKLAHOMA CITY - For the second time in as many games, the ball and his team's fate were in Ali Farokhmanesh's hands. This time, Northern Iowa's junior guard paused ever so briefly.
Should he put the ball on the floor? Give it up?
For the second time, he shot - with dead accuracy - and lifted the Panthers to heights unparalleled in their 105-year basketball-playing history.
Farokhamanesh's three-pointer with 35.1 seconds remaining cut off a furious Kansas rally and lifted UNI to a 69-67 upset of the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament Saturday night. Never before had the Panthers played the nation's No. 1-ranked team, much less beaten it. Never before had they played into the tournament's Sweet 16.
But they're headed to the Midwest Regional semifinals in St. Louis, underseeded at No. 9 but not hardly underappreciated. They'll play fourth-seeded Maryland or No. 5 Michigan State on Friday.
"We were confident going into it," said Adam Koch, UNI's senior forward. "There wasn't really any special emphasis put on who we were playing, what the situation really was. We approached it like every other game.
"So I really don think it's set in quite yet what this means."
Northern Iowa simply did what it has done all through a now 30-4 season. Play a little smarter. A little more together. Scramble things on defense. Slow the pace, the scoring. Keep squeezing until the other guys look up and time is gone.
Kansas' scored 15 points beneath its season average. Dogged by UNI's Kwadzo Ahelegbe, All-American point guard Sherron Collins missed all six of his three-point attempts, shot just 4-for-15 overall and had half as many turnovers (five) as points (10) in the final game of his college career. Center Cole Aldrich met a 7-foot match in the Panthers Jordan Eglseder before limping off the floor with a turned ankle with a little more than 8 1/2 minutes left. He never returned.
The Jayhawks led only at 2-0, fell behind by as many as nine points in the first half, then 12 in the second. Their collection of NBA players-in-waiting never managed to string together more than six consecutive points, and couldn't do that until the final minute.
The late spurt - two free throws by Tyshawn Taylor, two more by Marcus Morris and a Collins drive through heavy traffic in the lane - pulled them within a point, 63-62. A heavily partisan KU crowd in Oklahoma City's Ford Center roared. A tick less than 43 seconds remained on the clock.
Northern Iowa inbounded and beat the Jayhawks' press, getting the ball upcourt to the 6-foot Farokhamanesh.
He had hit UNLV with a dagger two nights earlier, time again running down, nervelessly nailing a trey with 4.9 seconds remaining. Here, Farokhamanesh saw a 2-on-1 opportunity with teammate Johnny Moran and gave a moment's thought to heading for the basket.
"Johnny was on the other wing," said Farokhamanesh, who finished with a team-high 16 points but had missed all seven of his previous second-half shots from the field. "I was going to see if I could drive it, and then he (the Kansas defender) backed off so far that I thought, 'I might as well shoot this one.' "
He nailed it again.
"I don't know if Coach (Ben Jacobson) really wanted him to shoot that when he was in that position," Moran said, smiling. "But if you know Ali, you know that shot is going up at the end of the game like that."
Jacobson, the 37-year-old author of what now is the greatest story in UNI basketball history, had no problem with the choice.
"If they defend the way they're supposed to, they can play the way they want on offense and they can take the shots that they think are good for our team," he said. "They've certainly earned the trust of our staff over the course of two years because they've got a good feel for how to play offense. They don't take bad shots."
They do plenty of other things, too. UNI snatched 16 offensive rebounds in the game. Freshman Jake Koch, Adam's younger brother, drew two critical charges in the final couple of minutes. There were points and contributions nine-deep through the Panthers' roster.
Eglseder scored 14 points, including a couple of did-you-see that three-pointers, and pulled down five rebounds - to Aldrich's 13 points and 10 boards.
KU forward Marcus Morris scored a team-high 16 points as the Jayhawks became the first No. 1 seed to lose in the second round since both Kentucky and Stanford went out in 2004.